All In   |  April 09, 2013

The NFL’s concussion lawsuit gets its day in court

NFL players are accusing the league of fraud and a cover up, contending that the league hid the risks of concussions. Dorsey Levens, a former NFL running back who was in the court Tuesday, joins Chris Hayes to discuss the lawsuit.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

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>>> just how much risk and injury we think as a society is acceptable when doing a job. more than 4,000 former players have filed concussion related suits against the nfl and today in a packed court in philadelphia in front of former players and their families, a judge heard arguments from some of the most high powered attorneys. before we get to the details, i want to give you some context. in 2011 , a total of 4,609 people died on the job. that same year, there were 3.6 million non-fatal work related injuries. day in and day out, americans get up and go to jobs where they risk life and limb and the risk they take on today, the risk is far, far better. it's agencies like osha that tends to make sure workers aren't maimed, killed or disabled because their employers are looking to cut corners. an issue today at a federal court in philadelphia is what might be one of the most dangerous workplaces in all of america. the football field . the complaint of these former players is that they are alleging the company the nfl looked the other way and fed the risk of concussions and long-term affects. the argument is about whether this case should be heard in court. the nfl claims that the league hid the risk of concussions long before a label arbitrator. paul clement , who just argued before doma, represents the league and told anita brodey this case is quote, at bottom, a case about workplace safety where issues were addressed in collective bargaining agreements. the attorney for the players disagreed and said the nfl breached its duty of due care . the judge allows the case to go forward, a $9 billion industry stands to be revolutionized and with it our culture's acceptance that money is made off of. joining me live from decatudecatur, georgia, also the producer of bell rung. dorsey, thank you so much. i want to ask you how it felt to be in court.

>> it was weird. i've only been in court one other time. it was weird, but interesting, too, to hear all the back and forth, all the information that both sides gave and to hear what the judge had to say.

>> i think for a typical fan or even a casual observer of the sport, when you hear about the lawsuit, there's an instinct to say we know just watching, this is a violent game, that you're taking on risk and you're quite well compensated relative to the median earner. what is there to sue here over? you know what you were getting into and you got well paid for it, so why should people care about this?

>> i think the most popular misconception is that we knew what we were getting into. you know going in it is a violent sport, a physical contact sport. when you're done, when you're retired, you may have a limp or some serious aches and paints or some joints that don't really work together. no one knew about any risk about traumatic brain injury .r i didn't find out until i started doing research. that's when i really started to get worried, but that information wasn't readily available. there were risks, but they weren't head injuries . they were physical ailments. it didn't jeopardize your quality of life moving forward.

>> so, the next step you're alleging isn't that there were these risks to your brain capacity, right, and the risk to senility and possible depression. the league actually knew about that or tried to make sure you didn't and that seems like an even sharper claim. how do you defend that?

>> i ultimately will find out what happens in the courtroom, but in 1994 , the nfl put together a team of doctors, some of the best in the country, to see if there's a relationship between repeated head blows. what we're trying to find out whether or not that's true. common sense says if you hire the best doctors in the country, they're going to find something, but they didn't. if they did know back in 1994 that there was an issue and if they did know, why didn't they tell us, then take care of the guys who are really hurting right now and can't afford health insurance and are suffering. if they knew, then they should be held accountable and these guys should be taken care of.

>> i want to read a 2007 nfl memo to players. at this point, there was quite a bit of brain science . if i have more than one concussion, am i increased risk for another industry. current research has not shown that having more than one or two concussions leads to problems. it is important to understand there is no magic number for how many concussions is too many. is that the kind of document you're talking about?

>> well, yes, sort of. it's still all this information is still relatively new. we still don't know a lot as to why some guys, you know, get ctd and they have it really bad and some guys who have passed on, they've had the brain scan and they showed the black cloud or dust that's on the brain, which is ctd and some guys have dementia, but the same guys who can live a long, healthy life and have this ctd and never have the effects. we're all exposed to the same head blows time and time again, so we're still trying to figure out why it happens to some people and why some people are o ok okay.

>> thank you so much for joining me.